Once the MLB lockout ends (hopefully soon!), signings and trades are expected to happen hurriedly as teams and players prepare for an imminent start to Spring Training. The SF Giants, for one, might take a look at adding another starting pitcher to their rotation; at this point, they have just four starters set with a host of internal options ready to compete for a possible fifth spot or as depth pieces.
So, barring another big acquisition, how is the 2022 rotation shaping up at the corner of 3rd and King? Kevin Gausman signing with the Toronto Blue Jays is certainly a blow to what most fans hoped to see at the top of the rotation, but the current set will still be a competitive one:
The Ace: Logan Webb
The obvious choice. How could it be anyone else? The Northern California native was long expected to at least contribute to the big-league roster, but he never made a Baseball America top-100 prospects list - and was even saddled with an evaluation (subscription required) saying he had the "ceiling of a No. 4 starter" in their annual Giants prospects list prior to the 2020 season.
So, then, Webb's breakout last year surprised many: 11-3, 3.03 ERA in 27 games (26 starts) with less than eight hits per nine innings and over four strikeouts for every walk. And lest people think it might have been a fluke, the Giants' pitching coaches and philosophy has already proven beneficial to the career earning of Gausman and a few other hurlers, so there's a good chance Webb sticks near the same level of production. He started - and was masterful - in Game One of the NLDS against the Dodgers. He's destined to be the ace of this staff for years to come.
#2/#3: Anthony DeSclafani/Alex Wood
These two both resurrected their careers with the Giants in 2021 the way Gausman had over the previous two seasons. Both are currently 31 years old and are nearing 10 years of service in the Majors; both had ERAs above 6.00 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
Last year, DeSclafani had a 3.17 ERA, 7.6 hits per nine innings and an even one homer per nine while striking out 152 in 167 2/3 frames over 31 starts. Wood was less durable, making 26 starts and throwing 138 2/3 innings, but he matched DeSclafani in strikeouts and had an even better home-run rate.
For my money, in the current iteration of the roster DeSclafani slots in well as the second starter thanks to his durability, while Wood makes for a solid #3. But if the Giants like how Wood comes out of the lockout better than DeSclafani, they could swap the two.
#4: Alex Cobb
The only outside addition to the rotation in the offseason before the lockout began, Cobb is coming off a solid campaign - but one where he missed almost two months with wrist inflammation. He put up great ratios (8.2 hits/9, 0.5 HR/9, 9.5 K/9) in 93 1/3 innings in 2021 but likely can't be counted on for a full workload in 2022. Especially if Spring Training is abbreviated, you could see Cobb be given every other start for a while (and put on the IL with some sort of injury in between just to get rest) and be the one who gets bumped for the sixth starter regularly. He'll easily bump down to #5 even if the team signs or trades for a starter slightly less than his caliber but with more stamina.
#5/6: Tyler Beede/Sammy Long/Sean Hjelle/pick a MiLB signee
This is the spot where things really get interesting. Barring another acquisition, it's unlikely that anyone who ends up in these roles will make 30+ starts.
Beede, the Giants' first-round pick in 2014, took a long time to get to the Majors and then showed some promise in 2019...before needing Tommy John surgery. He missed all of 2020 and made one MLB appearance in 2021. He'll probably get a chance to be at least a part-time starter and could seize a full-time role for a portion of the season, but counting on him to nail down a rotation spot is probably better held for 2023.
Long was a minor-league signee before 2021 and impressed in Spring Training by showing improved stuff, then dominated at times in starts for the Giants but couldn't hold his success deep into starts. He might be better as a swingman - making the occasional start while also coming out of the bullpen for high-leverage situations. He only tossed 40 2/3 innings in the Majors in 2021, so he won't be counted on for a full-season's worth of starts in 2022.
Still waiting to make his MLB debut is Hjelle, a 6-foot-11 righty drafted in the second round in 2018. Hjelle pitched well with Double-A Richmond (3.15 ERA in 14 starts) in 2021 but struggled with Triple-A Sacramento (5.74 ERA in 10 starts) and might need just a little more seasoning at the top level of the minors.
This offseason, Farhan Zaidi and co. have picked up quite a few pitchers on minor league deals. Raynel Espinal and Luis Ortiz are two with experience starting and good stuff in the minors. Once they get into the hands of the Giants pitching development staff led by Brian Bannister, they might take off and bolster the team's rotation.
Of course, all of this could go out the window with a big signing or trade once the lockout ends, or an injury to one of the projected starters in Spring Training. Let's hope the former isn't too costly and the latter doesn't even occur, as either could dent the Giants' chances of repeating in the NL West in 2022.